W Africa scrambles to prevent Ebola spread

Guinea and neighbouring countries try to contain outbreak that has killed at least 59 people so far.

Guinea has stocked up on medical supplies since the outbreak [Reuters]

West African nations scrambled to contain an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus suspected to have killed at least 59 people in Guinea, with symptoms of the disease reported in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia as well.

People are really frightened. They have seen people die in a matter of just two or three days. They are constantly worried who is going to be the next fatality.

by Joseph Gbaka Sandounou, Plan International

The spread of Ebola, one of the most lethal infectious diseases known, has spooked nations with weak health care systems. In Guinea’s southeast, home to all the confirmed cases, residents are avoiding large gatherings and prices in some markets have spiked as transporters avoid the area.

Health authorities in Liberia said they had now recorded eight suspected cases of Ebola, mainly in people who crossed the border from Guinea.

Five of these had died but tests were still being carried out to check if the cases were indeed Ebola, the Reuters news agency reported. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a total of 86 suspected cases, including 59 deaths, had been reported in southeastern Guinea near the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Laboratory tests have confirmed 13 cases of Ebola in Guinea so far, the first outbreak of the disease in West Africa.

“People are really frightened. They have seen people die in a matter of just two or three days. They are constantly worried who is going to be the next fatality,” said Joseph Gbaka Sandounou, who manages operations for aid agency Plan International in Guekedou.

Samples taken from those who died in Liberia had been sent to Conakry for testing, according to the Geneva-based WHO.

In Guinea, authorities have taken steps to quarantine suspected cases in the districts of Guekedou, Macenta, Nzerekore and Kissidougou.

In Sierra Leone, authorities set up a task force after the death of a 14-year-old boy who had attended the funeral of a suspected Ebola victim. Authorities have yet to confirm if the boy died of the disease.

No handshakes

Ebola was discovered in 1976 in then-Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo. Scientists have identified the outbreak in Guinea as the virulent Zaire strain of the virus.

Because people who fall sick with it tend to vomit, have diarrhoea and suffer both internal and external bleeding, their bodies are often “covered in virus”, Peter Piot, one of the co-discoverers of Ebola and now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Reuters.

This means anyone in close contact with them – such as nurses, doctors and carers – is at risk, he said.

The virus causes a raging fever, headaches, muscle pain, conjunctivitis and weakness, before moving into more severe phases of causing vomiting, diarrhoea and haemorrhages.

In the southeastern Guinea town of Macenta, prices – especially for products like chlorine – have risen due to shortages, resident Mamady Drame said.

People have also started avoiding shaking hands. “Can you imagine that people are hesitant to even greet each other? That is a shocking symbol in our culture,” Drame said.

In the distant capital, where there have not yet been any confirmed cases, some bank staff handling cash wore gloves and clients were encouraged to wash their hands before entering.

Source: Reuters